With this chapter I am bringing this series to a close. Within a few weeks, however, you can expect to see the first of what I anticipate being a progression of stories about Robert and William and their life together.
This chapter coincides with the posting of the first chapter of Absolute Convergence in January, 2001. I never anticipated the series going on for so long and I continue to be amazed by the incredible loyalty of readers who have stayed with me from the beginning. I am also sincerely appreciative of those newer readers who have contacted me from time to time to say that they've discovered the series and ventured through the collected chapters.
I'm always glad to receive comments, questions, criticism and encouragement and hope to continue hearing from you. I try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it's only because of the pressures of work.
Andrew has continued to give much needed proofing and editorial help, for which I am sincerely grateful. I could not have posted chapters as quickly as I've done without his invaluable assistance and I look forward to his help in the future. What began as a casual relationship based on my request for assistance, and Andrew's offer to provide proofing and editorial help, has grown into a close friendship, not in the least diminished by the fact that I am in the USA and he is in the UK.
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Dex Cohen probably never knew what an amazing gift he'd given us. Well, maybe he did know but, if he understood, he never mentioned it.
Those few days we spent at his lakeside home at Tahoe afforded us the space and time we needed to truly discover what William and I had become. Dex gave us the gifts of solitude and privacy in which we consummated our love.
Now, over thirty years later, we can look back to those days as the real beginning point of our life together. We arrived at Tahoe on Saturday afternoon, August 5, 1972 as two young men in love, but still two separate individuals. We returned to LA the following Wednesday as a couple, strong in our relationship and fully committed to the importance of our union.
Our society didn't make relationships like ours easy in 1972. Perhaps things have improved but I doubt if there has really been all that much progress.
Society endorses and applauds almost every heterosexual couple who announces their intent to marry. All the love and approval of family and friends is there to support them, to honor their relationship and do everything possible to assure their success as a married couple.
Yet, despite the support of everyone around them, most heterosexual marriages fail. It's a grim fact, but a fact just the same.
It's odd, considering all the support heterosexual couples receive and the failure rate of such marriages, that so many people and so many of our social institutions deride long-term monogamous gay unions and criticize what they see as the temporary nature of most gay relationships.
If gay couples got even half the support which is afforded to straight couples, I suspect the success rate of gay unions would quickly rival the success rates of straight marriages.
But you aren't reading this saga because you're all that interested in social theory. If fact, if you've followed this story from its beginning, you probably agree with what I've just said.
You're reading this story because you are interested in the lives of gay men. I won't disappoint you.
I guess in a sense this entire story has been about the paths I followed which brought me to William and my relationship with him. You know just about all there is to know about me. You know a lot less about William, but you know enough to understand that our backgrounds and experiences couldn't be much more different.
We've known a lot of gay couples, as well as a lot of straight couples, who seemed to have a lot more in common than William and I have. Yet their relationships failed when ours has survived.
To jump ahead a few years and give you one example, I'll tell you now that my brother Ted and Betty didn't make it, and look at all they had in common. They were both born and raised in Spring River, Mississippi, went to the same schools and the same church. Our family and Betty's family were close friends. They even went to Ole Miss together. Yet their marriage lasted less than five years.
Sadly they had two kids, my nieces, Laura and Marie, who grew up in broken homes and have perpetuated the same cycles in their own lives. But that's another story and I won't get into it here.
Betty remarried three years after she and my brother were divorced and her second marriage seems to have been stable. At least they are still together after twenty years.
Ted married again about a year after he and Betty split up and his second marriage also ended in divorce, lasting less than two years. Finally, ten years later he married for a third time and has stayed with Ruth, even though they seem to have had a pretty rocky time of it. She had been married before and had two kids of her own. Our parents never really approved of her, thinking she was socially and educationally beneath Ted.
Ruth had a high school education and had worked as a waitress in a local tavern. They live in Spring River and Ted operates our family lumber business there.
A lot of people have asked William and me how we've remained a couple. I guess the answers to that question are complex, probably too complex for even the two of us to understand. But there is one fact which has been at the foundation of our relationship and I suspect it is at the core of every lasting union, gay or straight.
Simply stated, it is our commitment, not only to one another, but to the overriding importance of our relationship.
That probably sounds simplistic but it's true. Most couples seem to think they can go into a relationship and test the strength of it as it progresses. The truth which William and I discovered during those few days at Lake Tahoe was that the marriage we wanted (there, I've used the "M" word) wasn't ever going to be stronger than our commitment to it.
"I suspect, Robert," William said one afternoon as we walked along the shore, "that in some ways we have to regard our relationship as even more important than our love for one another."
"Yeah," I agreed. "I'm sure there will be times I really won't feel much love for you."
"Now, that may be going too far," he jibed, poking me in the ribs.
"But true, lover," I said getting in a dig of my own. "Let's face it, we'll probably have some real knock-down, drag-out fights, but if we can fight knowing we'll make up, and never just walk away, we have half a chance of making this work."
"Well, if we can't make it work on our own, we sure don't have any chance at all."
"You're saying you don't expect much approval or support."
"Not from anyone else, I don't. I figure if we get any encouragement we should be very grateful for it, but if we go looking for approval as a prerequisite to a solid relationship, we've already lost a major battle."
"Yeah, unfortunately, I guess I'd say you're right."
"Hey, mister," William grinned, "it's us against the world."
"Well, I can handle those odds," I said, giving him one more hug.
Maybe that realization of our need to stand together against the world, against all the external pressures which would contrive to make our relationship fail, was another important aspect of our success.
William had been raised in the Anglican tradition, gone to a church related primary school, and valued his grounding in Christian teaching. It certainly helped that we both came from the same religious background. One of the things we did was to read, no, we studied, the marriage ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer. It contains a lot of wisdom and I'd recommend it to any couple who are starting out on a life together.
The old English of the Prayer Book is quaint but at one point it says that the couple are to "forsake all others." I guess that's what William and I did. We put everything and everyone in our past behind us. We severed all those relationships and any encumbrances they represented.
Then, again in the language of the Prayer Book, we "cleaved together." We became one, free of all that was behind us, not looking back, not being jealous of other people either of us had known or loved before we met, just giving it all up in order to become one.
I won't claim it was easy. For me, one of the biggest problems was Rick. I guess in some ways I'll always love him, but my love for him has been transformed by my love for William. I can think of him now as Debbie's husband, as the father of their child. There are bonds there. That will always be true, but thank God, William understood and in time came to love them as deeply as I do.
The love I felt for Rick, who was, after all, my first love, has become something different over the intervening years. I guess I could now say I love him like a brother. I know that also sounds trite, but it's true. My love for him ceased being a romantic fixation and it ceased being sexual. It became a love based on mutual concern and respect. He chose a different path but he's had the integrity and strength to see it through. He's probably a better father , and now a grandfather, than any other man I know.
So what of those memorable days at Lake Tahoe in August, 1972? Well, let me return to the story and tell you about them as they unfolded.
We flew into the Lake Tahoe Airport, which turned out to be about twenty miles southeast of Cohen's place on the lake shore just north of Meeks Bay. The plane had barely come to a stop when an old classic station wagon pulled up. The crew had just lowered the plane's gangway and as we unloaded our luggage I got a good look at the vehicle. It was a late 1930s Buick with what was obviously custom coach work. It was beautifully restored and its wooden side panels gleamed. William and I, along with Sam and Nat, got our belongings loaded with the help of the driver, who knew Turner and Barlow from previous visits, and welcomed them back to Tahoe.
Within minutes the plane crew were preparing to turn around for the flight back to Burbank and we were on our way to Cohen's estate.
And that's the only way to describe it, as an estate. We drove along the shore of the lake, heading north through some populated areas and long stretches of wooded countryside. In the years since, the shores of Lake Tahoe have been more fully developed but in 1972 there were many places where the shore line was visible from the highway.
As we approached the grounds the driver called ahead on some sort of radio phone and let the gatekeeper know we were arriving. We drove through a big rustic gate, made of huge logs set between tall stone plinths. From the gate, the drive goes through huge old pines by several utility buildings, guest cottages and staff quarters before ending at a circle in front of the old lodge. It had the feeling of an Adirondack camp, the sort of place wealthy east coast families built in upstate New York in the late nineteenth century. It was elegant and luxurious, but in a rustic, self-effacing way.
On leaving the station wagon we were struck by the wonderful air. It was clear and crisp and full of the fragrances of the surrounding forest.
"As Mr. Cohen instructed, I've put the two of you in the master suite," the housekeeper, who introduced herself as Mrs. Abernathy, told us when we'd gotten our luggage unloaded. "Mr. Turner and Mr. Barlow will be just across the hall," she added.
The master suite consisted of a big bedroom with a king-sized bed and a connecting bath. There was a cozy sitting area with a fieldstone fireplace and the entire space opened to a balcony which looked out through the massive trees toward the lake. The rooms were on the upper of the two floors, under sheltering eves, with walls and ceilings of dark paneled wood. The entire place smelled of the forest and of open wood fires.
We noticed as we were getting settled in that the room Sam and Nat would be sharing also had one large bed. William and I wondered about it and what it suggested about their relationship, but we said nothing, waiting and observing for the time being.
"Cook will serve dinner at seven, if that's acceptable," Mrs. Abernathy said. "I assumed you'd like time to settle in, and perhaps go for a walk before dinner," Mrs. Abernathy said.
"A walk would be great after the flight," William said and the four of us went off to our assigned rooms to unpack.
"Will the two of you be dining alone, or will Mr. Turner and Mr. Barlow be joining you?"
"Oh, we should all four eat together," William said, echoing my own assumptions.
Tahoe was jeans and flannel shirt country and within half an hour William and I were on a well worn trail which circled a little inlet and ended at a marvelous old boathouse which hovered over the shore. In it we found an assortment of canoes and rowboats as well as two small sailboats, all in pristine condition. In a central slip, as if it were the crown jewel of the flotilla, a thirty foot wooden speedboat rocked gently in the placid waters.
"That looks like a real powerhouse," I said, pointing to the massive craft.
"Not my style," William said, "but maybe we could do some sailing tomorrow."
"No punting this time?"
"I understand Tahoe is a glacial lake. We'd probably need polls about fifty feet long," he laughed.
"You'll have to teach me," I said, "I've never been sailing."
"Just one of many things I'm looking forward to teaching you," he said, reaching out to take me in his arms. We kissed gently at first but soon became more passionate. We moaned with lust for each other but restrained ourselves, waiting for evening and a warm bed by a glowing fire.
As we turned back toward the lodge we saw Sam and Nat were standing a short distance away, keeping a protective eye on us without intruding on our privacy.
"Interesting," I said to William as we walked back toward the lodge. "What do you think is up with those guys?"
"I'm beginning to think their relationship
is more than just professional."
Dinner that evening was wonderful, as was all the food at the lodge. 'Cook,' as Mrs. Abernathy had identified her, turned out to be a stern woman in her fifties who said little but obviously took great pride in her culinary skills. She not only prepared all our meals, but also served them with reserved confidence.
A red Sonoma zinfandel stood open on the table, ready for serving. While William and I helped our selves to the wine, Sam and Nat restricted themselves to one small glass a piece. "We are on duty," Sam said by way of explanation.
As we ate roast pork and potatoes, a fresh green salad and finally big wedges of apple pie, William and I began a more intimate conversation with Sam and Nat.
"We couldn't help wondering," William said as we finished off the pie and our second cups of coffee, "if you two were more than professional colleagues."
Turner looked at Barlow and smiled. "I guess it's obvious, isn't it?"
"We don't mean to intrude on your personal life," I added quickly.
"No," Sam said immediately, "we're not all that secretive about ourselves. We just don't make a point of flaunting our relationship."
"So you are lovers," William said, taking my hand under the cover of the tablecloth.
"Yes," the two men said simultaneously.
"We met in Viet Nam," Sam explained. "Of course as long as we were in the military we had to be very careful, but once we finished our hitch we were offered positions with RDF Security. We'd both made captain before we were discharged and Robert Friend, the man who started and still heads RDF, was our former group leader. He knew we were lovers and had no problem with it. In fact, given the clientele we serve, being gay is sometimes an advantage."
"How long have you been together?" I asked.
"Almost five years," Nat said with a broad smile.
"Good for you," William said. "I guess you've figured out that Robert and I are just beginning a relationship."
"Yes, Mr. Cohen made that clear. He told us to give you all the space and all the privacy you needed."
"He's an astute man," William said.
"I wonder if your father could have said anything to him," I said.
"You're crediting Peter with some very benevolent motivations," William said with a sardonic smile.
"Perhaps," I admitted. "Don't you think he's capable of doing something like that?"
"Oh, he's certainly capable of it," William replied. "He's always full of surprises, but if he did say anything to Dex Cohen, asking him to look out for us, I'd say his more likely motivations were either guilt or some expectation of gain."
"Peter?" Nat asked.
"My father," William answered, "Peter Amsted."
"Yes, we know. I was just surprised that you referred to him by his Christian name, rather then just saying 'dad.'"
"Yes, I guess that is a little odd," William said with a chuckle. "Since I was quite young I've done that, sometimes speaking of him as 'dad,' and at other times referring to him, and even addressing him, as 'Peter.' My parents were divorced when I was still just a child and I guess I grew up hearing my mother use his Christian name, although usually coupled with some less than polite adjective."
Sam, Nat and I all laughed, but the laughter was a bit uncomfortable.
"If you knew him, you'd probably understand," William added.
"We do know him, actually," Nat said. "Sam and I were assigned to him twice when he was working with Mr. Cohen on projects at NSB."
"Oh?" William said, followed by a rather awkward silence.
"Yes," Sam said.
We finished our dinner and the four of us moved over to a cozy setting area by the glowing fire.
Mrs. Abernathy came in a few minutes later to check on us.
"Cook has finished in the kitchen and she and I will be going to bed soon, unless you need something more," she said.
"We're fine," William said. "Tell Cook she served an excellent meal and we all enjoyed it."
"I'll tell her, Mr. Amsted," she said. "What time will you be wanting breakfast?"
A questioning look passed between us and then William said, "eight o'clock?"
"Yes, fine," Sam, Nat and I all agreed.
"Well then," the housekeeper said, "we'll see you at eight, and I hope you all have a good night. The air here is excellent for sleeping."
We thanked her and she was gone.
"I suppose we should go up to our room," Sam said, "and give the two of you a little privacy."
"Oh, don't mind that," William said, "but don't feel as if you have to keep an eye on us all the time. We understand you need some time off duty."
"We'll go up then," Sam said as he
and Nat rose. "We'll see you in the morning and if you need anything at
any time, we're just across the hall," he added as they went up the stairs.
When William and I went up to the master suite the room was a little cool but a low fire glowed in the hearth and the big bed had been turned down.
We got undressed and between the
cool sheets, pulled a light blanket up over our naked bodies and snuggled
for a long time, kissing, touching, loving each other, and somehow drifting
off to sleep without actually making love. I guess we were both a lot more
tired than we realized.
I woke the next morning lying on my side, my chest pressed against William's back and my right hand thrown over his body, holding him to me. My cock was hard and unwittingly pressed into the cleft of his lovely ass.
I moved my lips to his shoulder and kissed him repeatedly, feeling him stir and his body press back against mine.
"Fuck me," he moaned as he became more fully awake.
I started to roll away from him to reach for the lubricant we'd left in the drawer of the bedside table, but he grasped my arm and held me close to him.
"You don't need lube," he whispered and I realized he was right. My cock was drooling and his ass was already well coated.
Not wanting to hurt him, I reached down to grasp my cock and moved its wet head back and forth over the pucker of his ass, then probed him gently with one finger. I felt him relax. "Do it, Robert," he moaned softly and I pressed slowly into him.
We were lying on our sides, spooning together, and my ability to move freely was limited. It didn't matter, though. I slowly entered him until the entire length of my shaft was snug in his ass and as soon as I was fully in him, he began to move, rocking back and forth so that most of the work was his.
We moaned with pleasure and muttered endless words of love as our bodies slowly reached for the climax we both sought. It came gently but I soon felt his body stiffen in my arms and my own orgasm hit me hard, sending me over the edge as my cock erupted deep in his bowels and his own seed poured out, coating both his hand and mine.
We lay like that for some time, snug in the warm, sunlit bed as my cock slowly softened and eventually slipped out of his slick ass.
"If we both live to be one hundred," William whispered, "I'd be happy to begin every new day like that."
"Yes," I said softly, realizing once
more how much I loved this man.
Later that afternoon as William and I strolled together along the lake shore, he turned to me and said, "Robert, have you studied maths?"
"Only the required courses. Why?"
"I heard a lecture last term, given by a theoretical physicist, someone rather important, I suspect."
"Physics, I thought you said math?"
"Well, yes, but I guess at their theoretical levels they more or less become the same thing."
"Why did you think of that now?" I asked.
"Well the speaker was discussing work on a unifying theory that would explain the nature of all matter and energy."
"A step beyond Einstein?"
"I suppose, but I think he said Einstein was working on the same thing before his death."
"Is this relevant?"
"Yes, I think it is. Have you ever heard the term 'Absolute Convergence?'"
"No, I don't think so," I admitted.
"I'm certainly not a mathematician either, but as that professor was explaining it, I think it has to do with number series which seem to be unrelated, but which are actually an integrated whole, and have an absolute value, once they are fully understood."
"I think that goes beyond any math I ever studied," I laughed, "but why did you think of it now?"
"Well," he said, taking my hand. "It just occurred to me that it's a perfect metaphor for the two of us."
"Seemingly unrelated, yet actually an integrated whole," I smiled, paraphrasing the words he'd used.
"Yes," he said.
"I understand," I said.